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Judge orders Oath Keepers founder to remain in jail until Jan. 6 sedition trial

Federal prosecutors say Elmer Stewart Rhodes III helped organize “quick reaction forces” near Washington, D.C., in the leadup to the attack on the Capitol.
Image: Stewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington on Jun. 25, 2017.Susan Walsh / AP file

WASHINGTON — A federal judge Friday ordered the founder of the Oath Keepers, who is charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 riot, to remain in jail until trial, finding there were no conditions of release that could protect public safety.

Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, who founded the right-wing organization, was arrested last month and charged along with 10 other individuals. Federal prosecutors said Rhodes helped organize "quick reaction forces" (QRFs) outside of Washington, D.C., that were on standby to come into the nation's capital at Rhodes' order on Jan. 6.

Rhodes' attorneys argued that he never ordered the armed men into DC because former President Donald Trump did not invoke the Insurrection Act, which Rhodes believed would have allowed the Oath Keepers to help Trump secure the capital in a bid to hold onto power.

The danger of Rhodes' alleged conduct "cannot be understated," Judge Amit Mehta said during Friday's detention hearing, adding that the dangerousness of the alleged conduct weighed in favor of detention.

His lawyers had proposed that Rhodes stay with his cousin and her husband in California, though a pretrial services officer said the office had concerns about Rhodes’ cousin and her husband as proposed custodians.

The lead charge of seditious conspiracy, Mehta said on Friday, is "not merely one of obstructing an official proceeding" — a felony charge other Jan. 6 defendants have faced — and prosecutors have accused Rhodes of a plot to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force. He noted the alleged conspiracy included at least 10 others, and that Rhodes allegedly had "deputies" who worked under him.

Mehta called the evidence against Rhodes "compelling," and said that Rhodes' words were more than just speech, they were about action. "If anyone thinks this is about speech, they are mistaken," the judge said.

Mehta went on to say it was "very concerning" that Rhodes organized the QRFs to bring weapons to the DC region, even if there's no indication that the Oath Keepers brought weapons into the nation's capital.

Rhodes purchased a number of weapons and used language about preparing to "walk the Founders' path," which Mehta said amounted to a call to arms.

Rhodes' detention hearing was held remotely, and was delayed after a power outage at the facility where he's being detained. The hearing began at 1 p.m. ET and then resumed at 5 p.m.

Rhodes virtually testified before the House Jan. 6 committee while in custody after his arrest.